Monday, May 7, 2012
Old Roses Just Fade Away
This rose grows just outside one of the Ranger Stations at Radnor Lake State Park. It is an old fashioned rose, and from the looks of it, a one time bloomer. I am sure no one remembers its name. On a May morning it is a cheerful sight, but when one looks too closely,one sees the mildew on new canes. By summer's end it will have more mildew, and fewer leaves.
I once grew one hundred and fifty kinds of roses in my Nashville garden. I had them all. The Floribundas, the Chinas,
The Hybrid Teas. I had five foot by five foot once blooming antique roses. Species Roses. David Austin's roses. They were resplendent in May until the humidity and the rains left their buds brown and ruined. They were not good garden plants, and by September I regretted them. Japanese beetles attacked them. Black spot denuded them. Every year, as the shade deepened and the sunny spots disappeared I had to cull them. Even then it was surprising how some of the very old varieties- Rosa Gallica and Tuscany Suberb- which I bought at a plant sale at Rachel Jackson's garden at The Hermitage, persisted and rooted themselves in unlikely places.
One can drive out to Fairview, Tennessee in May and see other varieties that have persisted and gone wild. The old pink "Dorothy Perkins" lives on the sunny hills and roadsides of State Route 100. They take care of themselves, and spread by root and cane. Yet they are disease ridden, but they thrive in spite of it.
Twenty years ago one could drive around this city and see the red rose "Blaze" winding over fences. There might be a "New Dawn" on the side of a house climbing for the shingles. I do not see these anymore, for they have been replaced by the "Knockout" roses which are as at home in the hell strip in a Walmart parking lot as they are in private gardens. By the looks of it, no one plants any rose but "Knockout" now.
"Oh Rose, thou art sick", wrote William Blake, who blamed an "invisible worm that flies in the night". That worm has no taste for the Knockouts, which look the same in October as they do in May. Who can blame people who want Big Color for buying them? I have read they are the best selling garden plant in this country.
Yet they have one flaw. They make every yard and garden look the same, and had I a garden again I would not plant them. I can see as many as I want to on the median strip. And I would fill my garden instead with Crape Myrtles. 10 foot bushes and dwarfs. 20 foot trees. All floating in the early morning mists of humid Tennessee, and surpassing the Knockouts for beauty. They are one of the South's Soul plants, just like the gardenias and camellias Nashvillians wish they could coax through the winter.
And the Knockouts do have a second flaw. No fragrance. A disappointment in any rose.